Nearly 70 FFA and 4-H members descended on the Oklahoma state Capitol for the inaugural Oklahoma Farm Bureau Youth Legislative Experience July 12-13 in Oklahoma City.
The first of its kind for OKFB, the Youth Legislative Experience was an immersive two-day event for high school juniors and seniors to learn about Oklahoma’s legislative process and how a bill becomes law through a mock legislature held on the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
Each student arrived at the state Capitol with legislation in hand that they crafted in the weeks prior to the conference. Delegates had the opportunity to present and lobby their bills in one of four committees in hopes of having their legislation heard on the floor.
“I never realized how much effort and work has to be put in just for one bill, even if it fails,” said Cora Sullivan, a Lawton FFA member.
Attendees chose from amongst themselves individuals to serve as Speaker of the House and Floor Leader to run the floor sessions in the House alongside former Rep. Joe Dorman of the Oklahoma Institute of Child Advocacy.
Delegates discussed, debated and voted on legislation involving restrictions of the herbicide 2,4-D, changes to sport hunting seasons, required increases in number of school therapists, regulation of medical marijuana and more throughout the two general floor sessions.
During the conference, students heard from Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Blayne Arthur as well as Kirby Smith, chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell. The two shared the importance of civic engagement and giving agriculture a voice in the policymaking process.
Ryne Crosthwait, a delegate from Payne County 4-H, echoed the importance of advocating for agriculture at the state Capitol.
“(Agriculture) is one of the most important things we can advocate for, if not the most important thing,” Crosthwait said. “Without agriculture, we do not eat.”
The Youth Legislative Experience gave many students the opportunity to visit the state Capitol for the first time and see firsthand the opportunities available in policymaking.
“I know a lot of the students were not looking into going into legislation or politics,” said Lexie Zuniga of Fairview FFA. “I do think it opened students’ eyes to what they can do after high school.”
A number of state legislators assisted with the mock legislature and visited with the delegates in attendance, including Rep. Kyle Hilbert, Rep. Brian Hill, Rep. Dick Lowe and Sen. Blake Stephens.
In addition to legislative work both days, attendees enjoyed an afternoon of fellowship at Riversport OKC and completed a community service project at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma where they packed more than 7,300 pounds of food for a total of 6,096 meals.